Mother’s Love: The Heart of Ethics

Fresno Bee, May 8, 2022

Motherly love is different from other kinds of love. Brotherly love is connected to the Golden Rule. It tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Maternal love is stronger and more intimate. It focuses on the unique personality of those we love.

Fraternal love is about reciprocity. It asks us to respect each other’s rights. But maternal love is deeper and more intimate. It is not always reciprocated. It is not about equality. Rather, it is concerned with the concrete needs of the one who is loved.

The language of brotherhood is common in ethics and politics. The French Revolution celebrated liberty, equality and fraternity. The UN Declaration of Human Rights says, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We must either learn to live together as brothers or we are all going to perish together as fools.”

The language used here is gendered. Perhaps we should also say that there should be a spirit of sisterhood. Some go so far as to talk about “pregnant persons” instead of mothers.

But on Mother’s Day, we celebrate the spirit of motherly love. Motherly love is oriented toward the well-being of each particular child. Rather than treating all children the same, maternal love focuses on the uniqueness of each child.

Motherly love is emotionally stronger than brotherly love. It is also less egalitarian. Brothers are supposed to treat one another fairly and equally. But mothers love their children in a way that is biased and partial.

Mothers have special relationships with their own children that they simply do not have with other children. Of course, that special relationship works both ways. Most of us are biased when it comes to our own mothers. Toddlers seek their mother’s arms for comfort. And adult children give special care to their mothers.

I wrote about motherly love in a blog post last year on Mother’s Day. A friend suggested that this seems a bit sexist and old-fashioned. To say that motherly love is partial and biased may imply that mothers are ethically flawed.

But this only makes sense if we believe ethics is only about impartiality and equality. Motherly love is as important as brotherly love. Brotherly love gives us equality and respect. But motherly love gives us comfort, care and belonging. Each kind of love is needed.

The impartiality of fraternal love responds to inequality and intolerance. But a mother’s personal love helps us thrive in a world that is cold and indifferent. It is sexist to say that maternal love is inferior. The remedy is to understand that motherly love is important and that brotherly love is not the whole of ethics.

The Golden Rule of fraternal love remains a guide for morality. But what if we also said that we should learn to love other people as mothers love their children? That seems to be the heart of an ethic of compassion, to learn to care for others as our mothers cared for us.

And what about fatherly love? Well, our culture imagines a father’s love as that of a strict and dispassionate disciplinarian. Paternal love is the equality and impartiality of brotherly love taken to a higher level. The image of “God the Father” often portrays Him as loving us despite our failures, while reminding us that we need to straighten up and fly right.

But mothers don’t love us despite our failures. They love us because of our flaws, since it is our flaws that make us unique and special. Motherly love is focused on the personality of the one loved, while fatherly and brotherly love emphasizes the abstract personhood behind the personality.

We have to be careful in thinking this through. This gendered language includes stereotypes that can be hurtful and divisive. The truth is that men can love like mothers. And women can be dispassionate and impartial. We all have the capacity for each kind of love.

On Mother’s Day we celebrate motherly love. Let’s reflect on what our mothers taught us about love—and thank them for those lessons.

Read more at: https://www.fresnobee.com/opinion/readers-opinion/article261144842.html#storylink=cpy

Love and the Golden Rule: An Ethical Valentine

Fresno Bee, February 13, 2022

Valentine’s Day is a great time to reflect on the beauty of the golden rule. This principle tells us that love is the key to morality. But love and ethics are complicated.

Morality often involves lists of do’s and don’ts. The golden rule seems to tell us how to construct such a list. It says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” A negative version says, “Don’t do to others what you don’t want them to do to you.”

But ethics is not only about do’s and don’ts. Ethics also involves a transformation of the heart. It includes character and disposition, emotion and relationship.

That’s why the most inspiring version of the golden rule focuses on love. It says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This links altruism and egoism. It demands that we transform self-love into love of the other. It also suggests that ethics is not only about complying with a set of rules. Attitude and orientation also matter.

It is possible, for example, to do the right thing, but with a grudge. A person who is angry or resentful about doing good is less praiseworthy than someone who is benevolent, kind, and generous. Someone who tells the truth in order to avoid a penalty for lying is less admirable than someone who is fundamentally honest.

In reality, these things are complicated. Sometimes truth can be cold and biting. And sometimes a white lie can be kind. There is a difference between lying for malicious purposes and lying for the sake of the other person.

Love demands that we consider those complexities. The golden rule orients us toward the well-being of those we love. This goes beyond obedience to a list of commandments.

Rule-following is easier than loving. And strict compliance can betray the spirit of love. Consider fidelity and adultery. A grumpy lover whose faithfulness is stubbornly obedient is less praiseworthy than a lover who is happily faithful. The loyalty of love is not supposed to be a grim duty. There should be joy in fidelity.

Or consider the duties of parenthood. There are long lists of things that parents should do (or not do) for their children. But we wouldn’t really use the word “good” to describe a parent who obeys the rules of parenting without actually loving their children.

Some critics will say that love is too weak and mushy to be a reliable guide for ethics. Erotic love is a mercurial emotion that overwhelms rational thought. Romeo and Juliet were swept away by love. But (spoiler alert!) that story does not end well.

Ethical love is more mature than adolescent infatuation. It is supposed to be steady and enduring.

Christian texts provide us with a clue. The famous account in First Corinthians tells us that love is patient, kind, trusting, and hopeful. Love should not be proud or boastful, angry or resentful.

This account of mature and stable love can be traced back to Plato, who wrote several dialogues about love. Plato thought that love should be oriented toward higher goods. Erotic love focuses on the fleeting pleasures of the body. But platonic love is spiritual. It directs us toward enduring and essential goods.

Consider again, parental love. Loving parents do not love their children because the kids are useful or fun. A parent’s love is not about the parent’s happiness or pleasure. Rather, loving parents should want their children to thrive for their own sake.

The same is true of mature romantic love. It is not merely about pleasure and desire. Nor is it about financial partnership or some other pragmatic concern. Rather, romantic love ought to be focused on the spiritual well-being of the other person.

Of course, it is easy to misunderstand love. And we often love poorly. Poetry and literature are full of tarnished love. But the golden rule encourages us to polish up the way we love.

Love is not merely about feeding the fires of selfishness and sensuous pleasure. Rather, the beauty of love is found in the way it leads us beyond ourselves. True love is for the sake of the other. It ought to make us happy and also better and wiser.

Tyranny and Love

Fresno Bee, February 14, 2021

Love is powerful and perilous. It arouses and inspires, transforms and uplifts. But love can also be manipulated and exploited. Child abuse and domestic violence are appalling perversions of love, as is tyranny.

Love hovers in the background of the Trump impeachment. The violence of Jan. 6 was inspired by a strange love. At the rally that led to the insurrection, Trump thanked the crowd for their “extraordinary love.” The crowd chanted in reply, “We love Trump.” As those chants morphed into, “Fight for Trump,” the erotic became violent.

Trump eventually called for peace in a video where he described his opponents as “so bad and so evil.” He told his followers, “We love you. You are very special.”

This is not, of course, how love is supposed to work. Love is not supposed to look like a violent mob, a battered wife, or a cowering child. Love should make things better, not worse. It ought to be grounded in dignity and truth. It should enrich and include.

Love is easily manipulated. The abuser takes advantage of his lover’s infatuation. The gullible child, the frightened wife, and the devoted loyalist are bewildered by perverted eroticism. The victims of erotic exploitation are confused by lies, threats, and gaslighting. Their trust is twisted, their emotions manipulated.

The Greeks pictured Eros, the god of love, as a mischievous spirit. Eros inspires courage and sacrifice. But this can become fanatical. Eros afflicts us with a kind of madness that connects us to the divine. But love often becomes its opposite.

Freud suggested that eros and aggression are intertwined. Love inspires us to courageously defend those we love against insults and threats. This natural instinct distinguishes friend from foe. When this instinct is perverted, it fuels racism and ethnic violence. In joining together with those we love, we sometimes turn against those we hate.

Love is also connected to power and to madness. Erotic love can make people do crazy things. The sexual appetite destroys common sense.

Plato linked the madness of love to tyranny. He recognized that love empowers the tyrant. The tyrant’s self-love is excessive. Despite his narcissism, his followers love him. Their strange infatuation leads them to do shameful deeds on the tyrant’s behalf.

This happens in politics, in cults, and in families. Sadistic husbands, abusive priests, and vicious politicians remain beloved despite their crimes. This is as irrational as it is dangerous. Misguided love encourages and apologizes for the tyrant’s transgressions. The wife refuses to press charges. The cult closes in to protect the abuser. The partisans rally round the tyrant’s flag.

Despite what he says, the tyrant does not really love his adoring disciples. He loves only himself. When the chance arises, he will throw his devotees under the bus without blinking an eye.

Genuine love is different. The Apostle Paul said that love is patient and kind. It is not aggressive or easily angered. It is not proud or self-serving. It rejoices in the truth. Christians maintain that God is love. The Christian vision of love involves giving and forgiving, mercy and sacrifice.

A similar idea is found in Plato, who suggested that Eros holds the key to virtue and happiness. Tyrannical love closes us off in aggression and violence. Platonic love opens us up to friendship and wisdom.

Love enchants and expands. It leads us beyond the narrowness of ego toward something larger. It widens our circle and enriches the self. Plato said it connects us to eternal truths. Platonic love transforms both self and world. Things become more beautiful and joyful. We are inspired to embrace and to create.

There is energy and light in love. The lover’s flame warms and illuminates. This heat can also burn out of control. Love can sink into possessive jealously. Fanatical desire can become destructive. Tyrants abuse love in families, religions, and states.

The solution is to put Eros on trial. When Eros becomes tyrannical, it must be convicted and corrected. Love ought to help instead of hurt. It ought to decrease violence and build community. It ought to keep us open to the possible. And instead of causing terror and tears, it ought to give us hope.

Sexism and Making Love

Real men love women as human beings, not as objects to grope or grab

Fresno Bee, November 3, 2017

Every day there is a new allegation about the lewd behavior of lascivious men. The sorry state of male sexuality is shameful. Real men do not force themselves on women.

These sexual predators give masculinity a bad name. Men need to stand up and repudiate the behavior of these creeps. It is embarrassing and pathetic to imagine grown men running around with their pants down and their tongues hanging out.

Adult men control their sexuality and channel it in morally appropriate ways. We do not behave like naughty children. We keep our hands to ourselves.

In our sexist culture, we need to further empower women. But it is men who need to stop being selfish pigs. We need to teach our sons and brothers to treat women better. We need to celebrate the joy of genuine lovemaking. And we need to understand why predatory sexuality is shameful and subhuman.

REAL MEN DO NOT FORCE THEMSELVES ON WOMEN

Real men love women as persons—not only our sexual partners but also our mothers, sisters and daughters. We value their happiness. We do not view them as pieces of meat to be conquered and consumed, grabbed and groped.

Some might prefer to avoid discussing this. Some adults even want to avoid teaching children the basics of reproductive health. But misogyny is connected to our avoidance of frank discussions of healthy human sexuality. Sexual ethics – and ethics in general – requires honesty and transparency.

The first rule of good sex is that consent is required. We each have a basic right to our own bodily integrity. “No means no” is an obvious rule. And it is “yes” that ought to stimulate desire. A shared “yes” is the ultimate turn-on. Good sex aims at mutual desire and satisfaction.

But our sexist culture warps this. Porn teach men to view women’s bodies as mere objects of male gratification. Masturbation requires no one other than you to consent. But real sex requires consent. And that requires communication and care.

SEXUAL PREDATORS FAIL TO COMPREHEND THE MORAL REALITY OF THE HUMAN PERSONS THEY ABUSE.

A further problem is that sexual predators appear to experience “no” as a turn-on. Instead of a shared experience of mutual pleasure and vulnerability, predatory sexuality treats the other person’s body as a mere tool to be used and discarded.

Sexual predators fail to comprehend the moral reality of the human persons they abuse. This reflects a serious character flaw. It is reasonable to suspect that grabbers and gropers will be rude and obnoxious in other relationships as well.

Sexual predation is as much about power as it is about sex. The predator enjoys manipulating the weak and vulnerable. But this is subhuman. The alpha dog humps the other dogs into submission as a display of power. This has nothing to do with making love or with genuinely human relations.

All animals copulate. But only human beings make love. Human beings are more than our bodies and our reproductive organs. Making love is a spiritual act. It is about shared enjoyment and reciprocal desire. Like conversation and dance, lovemaking is a give and take that enlightens, surprises and inspires. It is much more than bodies rubbing against each other. It is also a mingling of souls.

Sexual relations are – or ought to be – fully human relations. Good human relationships are respectful, kind, generous, honest and loving. They involve reciprocity and trust. This should be true in sex and in the rest of human affairs.

TO LEARN TO MAKE LOVE IS TO LEARN TO BE A BETTER PERSON.

The sexual predator fails to understand this. He takes what is not freely given. He dominates instead of communicating. And he violates trust instead of cultivating it.

Bad sex is one-sided. It is needy, selfish and narcissistic. It approaches sex as something to be done to a body and not as something to be shared with a person. But sex without reciprocity is merely masturbation, a lonely act devoid of human connection.

To learn to make love is to learn to be a better person. Lovemaking teaches us about intimacy, tenderness and care. Those lessons serve us through the whole of life.

The grabby goats of American culture have failed to learn these lessons. They are an embarrassment to masculinity. Real men do not abuse women. We love them. And we understand that making love is a spiritual practice that is degraded by shameless predatory behavior.

Love and hate at Christmas time

Love and hate at Christmas time

Fresno Bee, December 3, 2016

Hate is growing. The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that hate crimes have increased since the November election. The Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno received hateful threats that mentioned Donald Trump. But hate already was rising before Trump’s election.

According to the FBI, hate crimes increased 6 percent in 2015. And hate goes both ways: Anti-Trump protests, vandalism and graffiti are a problem. Trump’s star on the Hollywood walk of fame has been chiseled and defaced.

We are in the middle of an ever-increasing hate-storm.

The Kellogg company pulled its advertising from Breitbart News, citing disagreement with Breitbart’s pro-Trump values. Breitbart ran a headline saying Kellogg “declares hate for 45,000,000 readers.” Breitbart’s editor-in-chief said, “If you serve Kellogg’s products to your family, you are serving up bigotry at your breakfast table.”

Breitbart has called for a Kellogg boycott. Will we now suspiciously eye one another in the grocery store? The fight over Fruit Loops seems absurd. But it is also symbolic of our acrimonious era.

An “us vs. them” mindset is developing. We look for allies, while fearing everyone else. Emotions are frayed. We become wary and worried. Every glance, action and word seems pregnant and portentous. A spark can easily cause this powder keg to snap, crackle and pop.

Hate, fear and violence form an unholy trinity that undermines stable and harmonious social life. These evils provoke a tit-for-tat logic. We fear those who fear us. Those we hate hate us in return. Each turn of the ratchet of fear and hate creates an atmosphere in which violence becomes likely.

We need to stop it. When asked about outbreaks of hate and violence on 60 Minutes, President-elect Trump said he is saddened by it. He said, “If it helps, I will say this: Stop it!”

Yes, it does help. We all need to say it loudly. Stop the hate. Stop the violence.

We desperately need de-escalation, reconciliation and human kindness. It sounds naïve, but the simple truth is that the world needs love. We need trust, communal feeling, generosity and hospitality. And more of us need to say to the haters, “Stop it.”

Time magazine recently published an article by researchers from UCLA and Princeton that argues that communities can de-legitimize violence and prevent hate by speaking out against it. Violence decreases when masses of people – including prominent “influencers” – vocally and vigorously condemn it. When hate appears, we should all be vocal in condemning it.

The way to cure darkness is to shed light. The way to fight hatred is to spread love. The way to stop violence is to practice nonviolence. And the first step in ending social dysfunction is to say, “Stop it.”

Violence and hate easily become normalized. It begins with a few mean jokes and insulting words. Soon, we are not surprised or offended by rough language and hateful speech. This is especially true when leaders and elites start speaking in insulting, uncivil and hateful ways.

But hateful speech and violent deeds are not normal or defensible. Normal people respect each other. We normally view each other as partners in the project of building up the common good. Normal families, businesses and polities work together, avoiding rancor. Normal people follow the Golden Rule of treating others as you want to be treated.

This time of year, we teach our children that they better be good, for goodness’ sake. And we talk about being naughty or nice. The moral spirit of the season is about generosity, hospitality, love and peace.

Of course, even Christmas has become political. But you don’t have to believe in Christ – or Santa – to understand the moral message of Christmas. The Golden Rule is common to all of the world’s traditions.

It is better to give than to receive. It is better to welcome than to exclude. It is better to build up than to tear down. It is better to live in peace than to be at war. And it is better to love than to hate.

Let’s declare December a hate-free month. Tone down the political vitriol. Reach out to the marginalized. Defuse conflict, violence and fear. And if someone says a hateful word, quote Trump, and tell them to stop it.

http://www.fresnobee.com/living/liv-columns-blogs/andrew-fiala/article118497773.html